BL50 : AROnline readers choose the 10 greatest BLMC cars

For the 50th Anniversary of the creation of BLMC, we’ve been running a series of features to celebrate, reflect and inform about the achievements of British Leyland Motor Corporation. To find out what you think the greatest legacy of the company is, we asked you to vote for what you think are the greatest cars produced by the company.

It’s amazing to see just how much love – some of it ironic – that there is out there for the products which the company produced between 1968 and 1986 (when the initials BL disappeared and were replaced by the Rover Group). What we found in a pair of polls, both on here and in our Facebook Group, is that you’re massively well informed, and still extremely passionate and engaged about the cars.

What we’ve produced in the past two months of voting is, hopefully, the definitive Top 10 list of BLMC’s greatest cars as voted by the Internet’s most knowledgeable experts. It’s not without controversy – as you can read in the comments below, there were a number of cars that you think we should have included, even though they weren’t explicitly developed or engineered by BLMC.

So, here it is – as voted for by you:

AROnline’s Top 10 cars of BLMC

1 Rover SD1

351 Votes

That the Rover came top should not have been a surprise. It’s a consistent winner on AROnline and, in many ways, is by far the best car that BL ever produced. We all know why, too. It looks progressive, is a fabulous all-round performer and had some very clever engineering behind it.

Today, the Rover SD1 is a popular classic car. But it’s a car that’s loved by you all in spite of itself. Notwithstanding the dreadful build quality of the early cars, and the irreparable damage it the SD1 did to Rover’s reputation, it’s probably as much to blame for BLMC’s downfall as the Austin Allegro.

Why? It cost an absolute fortune to develop, demanded a new factory in which to build it and, as a result, by the time the money started pouring in from those early sales, BLMC had long since needed a financial bail-out from the Government in the wake of the 1973 Energy Crisis. As a consequence, BLMC no longer had enough money to develop the much-needed replacements for the Triumph Dolomite, Morris Marina and many others.

2 Range Rover

176 Votes

It could be argued that the Range Rover is absolutely nothing to do with BLMC. It was largely developed by the Rover Company and, although the final two years of development were on Leyland’s watch, it was pretty much set in stone. Thankfully, Donald Stokes and his money men more than saw the Range Rover’s potential, and ensured that the project was finished.

Launched in 1970, it took everyone quite a while to cotton on to the Range Rover’s significance. Not least BLMC itself, which let this highly popular car soldier on by itself without any meaningful development throughout the rest of the decade. And when the improvements came, BLMC had long since failed, and it came under the auspices of Land Rover Limited – a subsidiary set-up after Sir Michael Edwardes took over the reins in 1977.

So, it’s probably a cheek to say the Range Rover is BLMC’s second-greatest car. Still, you can’t argue with its overall greatness – it’s a design icon that changed the world, and which still casts a long shadow over the entire British motor industry today. We love the Range Rover, but unlike the SD1 which it trails in this poll, its brilliance remains undiminished to this day.

3 Austin Metro

167 Votes

The Metro is the perfect example of what the post-BLMC British motor industry did so well: create a perfectly good car on limited resources, from carry-over parts and in response to a crisis. The Metro may have been built from carry-over Mini parts, but it was a great piece of engineering that was well-packaged, and easily good enough to worry the best of its (well-financed) rivals.

Today, it’s now an all-time classic, thanks to its rarity and cultural positioning within the era in which it lived. Like the top two cars in this list, much of the Metro’s engineering was overseen by Spen King, and its late-life facelift (transforming it from the ADO88 into the LC8) was performed by David Bache’s team.

Was it really as good as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo that it was up against at the time of its launch? Oh yes, you better believe it!

4 Jaguar XJ6/XJ12

144 Votes

Like the Range Rover in second position, the Jaguar XJ actually owes very little to BLMC at all. But it was sold under the BL Roundel during the 1970s and, if it wasn’t for Donald Stokes and John Barber canning the potential in-house rival in the form of the Rover P8, the XJ may not have enjoyed quite such an easy ride into its greatest years in the early 1980s.

The XJ was voted for so highly because of its peerless chassis engineering and elegance that has withstood the passage of time far more than just about any other car in this line-up. It suffered during the BLMC years (and not really because of BLMC), but emerged out the other end intact, thanks to John Egan’s guidance into private ownership in 1984.

Its only really negative legacy is that the cars which replaced it were all cast from the same mould, sending Jaguar down a path towards retro that it only really broke out of in 2007 with the launch of the XF.

5 Austin Maxi

90 Votes

It’s interesting so see how the Maxi has outperformed its mid-market bedfellows from the BLMC stable. Perhaps this is because it was a more progressive – and timeless – car than the Allegro, Marina and Dolomite. Certainly the five-door, five-speed hatchback format makes the plain Jane superhero of the BLMC line-up the best to live with today.

The Maxi was creator Alec Issigonis’s parting gift from BMC to Leyland, and it proved almost impossible to facelift, improve or directly replace. The Maxi’s other big legacy to BLMC was a negative one – its existence as a commercial under-performer probably discouraged management to develop the potentially-excellent Allegro into the five-door hatchback it so clearly deserved to be.

Yes, the Austin Maxi missed its market brief by a country mile, and sold a fraction the number of cars as the Ford Cortina, and wasn’t as good to drive as its closest rival, the Renault 16 – but today, it’s likeable and deserving of its fifth position.

6 Princess

88 Votes

The Princess is the archetypal BLMC car, even if it was launched after the company was bailed out by the British Government. Unlike the Maxi above, the Princess was – and is – a great looking car that was developed throughout its life into a near-brilliant family car.

Had it received the hatchback it was crying out for, and had the O-Series engine from launch, there’s no doubt that it would have finished much higher up this list. Like the top-placed Rover SD1, the Princess was also saddled with indifferent build quality and received a pasting from the press – probably the biggest missed opportunity of the lot…

7 Triumph Stag

63 Votes

Often cited as the car that typifies British Leyland more than any other – beautiful to behold, drive and listen to, but compromised by its unreliable engine – the Triumph Stag is another car that wasn’t really steered by BLMC as much of its development was completed by the time the merger happened in 1968.

Despite that, it symbolises missed opportunities more than any other car on this list. Forget notions that it should have been powered by the Rover V8, though. It has more character with the Triumph V8 under the bonnet. Besides, Rover didn’t have the capacity to put its engine under the bonnet of the Stag as well as all its own cars. We love it, but there’s no denying that the Stag is as much a failure as any car on this list.

8 Austin Allegro

60 Votes

Here’s the daddy. The car that all of BLMC’s hopes and aspirations were pinned upon and, in true style, it didn’t so much miss its target, but not realise there was one at all, and went on holiday instead. The Austin Allegro wasn’t a bad car, but it was far from good, and as such, as the replacement for the country’s best-selling car, it was a shoddy effort, and a commercial failure.

In a car market that was waking up to style, the frumpy old Allegro lacked pizzazz and, thanks to being a portly young thing, it was slow and thirsty compared with its rivals – and that included the car it replaced, the Austin 1300.

A lack of hatchback wasn’t a big deal at launch, but it did show that BLMC’s management was capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Why? Because a year after its launch, the Volkswagen Golf showed them how it’s done, rendering the Allegro the product of previous generation. And it’s not as if BLMC didn’t understand hatchbacks, as the Maxi clearly demonstrated. Still, it’s not a bad classic car today…

9 Triumph Dolomite

56 Votes

The Triumph Dolomite was a classy little number that anticipated the car market’s move to premium small cars decades before it happened. Forget the Vanden Plas 1500 – this is where class lies in the BLMC mid-market line-up. Even now, it’s hard not to cry bitter tears of regret at this fact that this car was the end of the line for Triumph as an independent engineering and manufacturing concern.

It’s a shame that the Dolomite wasn’t developed by BLMC more thoroughly during its life instead of being taken for granted. Yes, the Sprint’s 16-valve head was a great legacy, but it was far from perfected when it went on sale. Furthermore, the potential of that engine was never realised thanks to BL’s sports car brand confusion and ultimate abandonment.

10 Morris Marina

56 Votes

The Marina was a good car. There, we’ve said it. Not in terms of how it drove or performed, but the way in which it was conjured up in such a short space of time, and from so many carry-over parts. As the BLMC empire crumbled throughout the 1970s, this cheaply-developed and simply-conceived car quietly got on with the job in hand, becoming the corporation’s best-selling car this side of the Mini.

And yes, it didn’t sell as well as the Ford Cortina or Escort, but it soundly trounced its Rootes Group and Vauxhall rivals, which is quite an achievement, given relative development budgets. So, a good car, a profitable one, too – it’s only major sin was that it remained in production almost a decade too long.

Your vote for BLMC’s Top 10 cars: what have we learned?

If nothing else, you love a V8, and you’re partial to a bit of Spen King, allied with David Bache. All three cars had this pair’s fingerprints all over them, and of them, two are generally regarded to be all-time design greats. Sadly, only one of the three – the Range Rover – has endured the test of time extending a massive influence over the product range of its maker today, and the SUV market as a whole.

Interestingly, of the cars specifically created by BLMC for BLMC’s future, beyond the SD1, it’s the Princess that comes out in second place, with the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina scraping into the bottom end of the Top 10 below that. The products of Jaguar and Triumph – with very little post-merger input – are much more highly regarded, which perhaps reflects the all-time classic status of cars such as the Jaguar XJ6/XJ12, Triumph Stag and Dolomite.

It’s also clear as day that – from the safety of 50 years’ worth of hindsight – in sinking so much resource into the Rover SD1 in its formative years, BLMC denied us the 1970s replacements for these more desirable cars, which arguably could have sealed its future prosperity. Never more than now has the non-appearance of the Triumph SD2 and ADO77 hurt so much.

  • Here’s what you said when we asked you to vote for the all-time greatest BMC>MGR cars back in 2004. It’s an interesting list…

BMC>Rover the Greatest : You decide

Keith Adams


  1. Not sure about the Range Rover and the XJ6. They were pretty much ready for production at the time of the merger, so they didn’t suffer much from BL’s board influence

  2. Agree on XJ6, thuogh not oon RR: that could have gone the way P8/P9 went!
    However, criterium is the BL-era, so form 1968 ’till 1986…

  3. The XJ6 should be XJ6/XJ12?
    To me equal greatest with the Range Rover as both production ready before the merger, yet both outlived BL and underpinned the return of Jaguar and Rover to the private sector.

  4. To me the XJ6 and Range Rover stand out by a mile for their desirability and iconic status, especially the Range Rover. The vast number of Range Rovers still coming out of Solihull (and other plants) today is proof of the excellence of the original

  5. I think there may be a bug in your voting software. It seems to be showing that people have voted for the Marina, which surely can be the case?!

  6. I thought the montego and maestro family emanated post BLMC in fact the metro was in the same family. There was also the triumph 2000 too

  7. Triumph TR6 not on the list? The mechanicals were all there before ’68, but it was a new model with a new body introduced post ’68.

  8. There are two distinct classes of car featuring in this list. The type designed by a previous incarnation of BL (Range Rover, Stag) and those fully designed by BL (Allegro and Marina). Fascinating differences.

  9. Some fascinating things coming out of this
    1/ everyone loves the SD1 (surely on looks and V8 alone)
    2/ A real affection for the Metro (justifiably) not a market leader per say but very good and with real charm.
    3/ the Range rover and XJ6/12 which subjectively should be romping this are a little unloved.
    4/ The maxi another “car that killed the company” is remarkably popular. Better than an Allegro, Marina or Princess. I’d say yes and just shows how lack of development (and four door) cost this sales. Spend a fraction of the money spent on Marina and Allegro updating and producing 4 door variants, shoehorn a 2lt or 2.2lt E6 in there and suddenly you have a Mark 2 cavalier in 1970.

    • Re. the Maxi: could that be because this really is one of the saddest cars to emerge form BL? Very good concept gone very wrong in execution, could have been so much better with properly developed drivetrain and different (almost any other) body…

      • The Maxi seemed to have been unloved by BL management and it looks as if no effort was made to make it sell. I’m not sure it was very wrong in execution. It rode well, was refined and comfortable as well as practical. Handling was miles ahead of most of the competition and it was mostly reliable. (like the 1800). But people wanted a bit more performance (2lt engines) and a bit more 70 jazzy styling and maybe a saloon version. All of which could quite easily be given for relatively little expense.

        • Very few people bought 2 Litre family cars in the late 60s early 70s. The Maxi was just not stylish enough for the late 60s and early 70s, if it was a haircut it would have been a “short back and sides”.

        • The Aquila shows that the Maxi could have been restyled and made into an elegant and attractive car, without losing that wonderful spaciousness and adaptability. Yes, it should have had 4 door and estate variants, surely

    • Certain types of car tend to be more popular here than on polls of more “general” motoring enthusiasts
      I doubt a poll elsewhere would have the Metro ahead of the XJ6, or indeed the Marina ahead of the XJS, which also trails the Princess and Allegro!

  10. If I were to say the Sherpa, many would scoff, but once upon a time these vans were everywhere plying their trade and keeping this little country and others in business and, you can’t get a piano in the back of any other of our other cherished BLMC products save the T45…

  11. I think it has to be the SD1, for all its flaws. Of course all BL’s cars were flawed!

    Has anyone else noticed that some BL styling id living on in VW/Audi cars? The Q3 looks like an inflated Allegro and there are hints of Princess on the Q2 and T Roc.

  12. I had a Vitesse with a BL badge on. Surely they also produced GT6s. I cannot see Ambassador, which was an overall improvement on the Princess.All were supposed to be improvements on previous models but I rather think pricing became a bit of an issue.

  13. The Maxi was under-valued at the time, and is under-rated now. Unfortunately it’s greatest asset was the thing that hamstrung it. I agree that different body variants would have worked, but a booted version would have been so big, because it used the 1800/2200 doors, which gave it the fantastic accommodation, but would have made a saloon bigger than the Princess!

  14. I really think that the Morris Ital and Austin Ambassador should be included if for no other reason that BL considered them to be replacements for the Marina and Princess. If still doubtful then try buying a headlamp for either model and then attempt fitting it to it’s predecessor!

  15. Undoubtedly, the Range Rover has to be among the vehicles listed. This is arguably he car that created the luxury 4WD and remains the benchmark in the sector.

  16. Sherpa and T45 are a bit unfair as I reckon most readers won’t know that much about or be that interested in either cars or vans and so these will be open to fewer potential votes. And following: what about marina and maestro vans? Maybe a separate commercial vote. Or maybe not.

    • We used to batch run Marina vans, for BT, British Gas, Electricity Board. We even did Marina pick-ups for the USAF. They were done this way, to allow A/B paint to run single colours.

  17. Well, the XJ6 would have been high on my list, the Dolomite and, don;t snigger, the Maxi. Stag was and still is gorgeous but a truly awful motor. I drove one as a youth and said to my employer, goes well for a 2 litre. Discovered a moment later it was a 3 litre V8. The SD 1 was the Audi of it’s day, look in your rear view on the motorway and there’d be one up your duck run, flashing its lights. Now Audi drivers pull their seat forwar to be just that little bit closer to the car in front !

  18. If you rule our the cars which were significantly developed before BL existed – Range Rover, XJ6, Maxi, Stag, while even the Dolomite owes a lot to the 1500, it’s not an impressive list, the cars actually developed from scratch in the BL period…

  19. If greatness includes at least achieving what was expected/required of the car in the marketplace, then unfortunately most of these would have to be disqualified. Only the Range Rover, Jaguar XJ6/XJ12, Morris Marina, plus possibly the Austin Metro and Triumph Dolomite would be left. All of the others played their part in the downfall of BLMC/BL in some significant way. Realise that’s a very cold way of looking at it!

  20. Say what you like about the Marina and Allegro but they made the company money at a time when large engined vehicles could not be given away due to high fuel prices.
    Let’s not for get that even during periods of strike and strife, BL would sell more Marinas in a month than MG Motor hope to sell of their entire range in a decade.

  21. I would say the Austin Metro must be the winner for saving British Leyland from collapse, proving the corporation could finally make a best selling and decent car, and remaining a popular car right until it was cancelled in 1990.
    Runner up has to be the Jaguar XJ6 Series 1. No other car, except maybe a Mercedes S class costing twice much, rode as well, could cruise silently above 100 mph, or looked as good. Indeed the design was so good, it lasted 23 years.

  22. The S class which could in any way rival the XJ6 qualities did not arrive until the W107 series in 1981 , and even then it was rather agricultural compared with the XJ. It was, however, everlastingly reliable – I did 300,000 miles in 7 years on my 500SEC and never had a single fault except a loose nut in a window mechanism

    • I’m sure Mercedes used S, or SEL, for their top of the range cars from 1969 onwards. There was the outrageous 450 SEL 6.9 that had a 6.9 litre V8 and fuel consumption of 12 mpg on a good day. Yet for all it was very smooth and powerful, it still couldn’t outperform an XJ12 for half the money, although it was far better built. Also Mercedes proved to be a big rival to Jaguar in America in the seventies, as wealthy Americans who wanted something different and more powerful than emissions strangled Cadillacs and Lincolns after the oil crisis were flocking to Mercedes due to the quality that was lacking in Jaguars.

  23. Keith I have to take some issue with your closing comments about resources and SD1. Surely if BL’s first new volume cars, Maxi, Marina and Allegro had been good enough to have sold in the anticipated numbers, and profitably of course, there might have been funds to develop suitable replacements. Possibly on more sensible Ford-like timescales. And who knows, the whole enterprise might not have then collapsed into nationalisation. And the promising SD1 might have been resourced and built to the quality it deserved.

  24. Where’s the P6? A truly stunning car, that can easily keep up in modern traffic and drives as well or better than anything you can buy today.

  25. Love the SD1 and I’ve always been a fan of the Princess – especially the Wolseley 18/22 version which had real class. But it cried out for a bigger engine and more lavish spec – which would I suppose have taken it into the bottom end of the Rover’s market segment.

    The Maxi was hampered by those dowdy Landcrab side pressings. If it had been designed with a clean sheet it might not have looked so dated from the word go.

    As for the Metro, it only realised its true potential in mk2 guise. For many years I zipped around town in a Rover 114GTa which I was extremely fond of – nippy and understated, it was a perfect Q car.

  26. I had the last of the 1.7 Marinas whilst owning several other cars including a 1.6 Cortina Estate and various Viva’s. They were all good fun and I can’t think of a single reason why the Cortina was better than the Marina. I well remember several late night high speed drives in the Marina and we put up some good times – and the thing behaved perfectly. All of them were rear wheel drive and conventionally sprung – they all could al be drifted and steered with the throttle to provide entertaining progress in those far off days. The Marina suffers from derision and scoffing mostly by those who have never driven one and those who just like to knock seven bells out of BL! In fact – it was a masterpiece in quick development and cost control – it looked good for the day and it sold well – and it was as individual as anything else (as most cars were in those day so). It was a good car! Live with it! (And this is from someone who sold Vauxhalls at the time).

  27. Good to hear from a Marina fan. I never drove or owned one but I had a friend who had a coupe and he looked after it well. A client had a couple of Marina’s as company cars too.

    I owned a Viva HC in the mid 70s that I loved despite the cost of replacing front wings. I guess if you sold Vauxhalls, that would have included the Cavalier MK1? The Coupe and Sportshatch were two of my all time favourites.

    • The Chevette and the Cavalier were the big move forward for Vauxhall, even if the Cavalier was made in Belgium for the first two years of its life. I particularly like the Chevette as it was built around Viva technology to save money, but a lot more modern looking and a better drive.

      • The Chevette body shell was the GM T-car shared with the Kadette, but with a unique nose.

        The use of the largest Viva engine was an interesting choice, & was also used in the Cavalier.

        • Yes, the 1256cc engine made a short appearance in the Cavalier L saloon, but I would think was underpowered. There were much more 1.6’s, 1.9’s and 2 Litre’s around.

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